19 October, 2021

The Humanitarian Collective

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The People’s Republic of Bangladesh: Meet the World’s Newest Solar Powerhouse

Being a sixteen year old who gets to go to school, eat at least three meals a day, and not have to worry about when the power will shut off constitutes a fairly privileged lifestyle for myself. I have the ability to go out at night and not worry about if it’s too dark because the street lights are always on, or finish my homework late at night with a desk light. I, myself, and many others take this for granted, yet millions of people all over the world don’t have access to basic electricity in their households. One particular country in South Asia has suffered without access to electricity for far too long. 

Nearly a quarter of Bangladesh’s population suffers day-to-day because they can’t complete simple tasks like cooking dinner, or finishing work by the time the sun goes down. Their days are cut short without electricity, which has prompted the Bangladeshi people to have to adapt to a completely different lifestyle. However, this new lifestyle may be better than expected. 

Throughout the past fifteen years, the Bangladeshi government has provided millions of solar panels to their citizens, leading to the installment of over five million solar-home systems. The government has set up an extensive program to maintain and continue this effort while working alongside international organizations such as The World Bank and companies in the Bengladeshi private sector. Without this effort, solar powered energy wouldn’t be possible in Bangladesh.

On March 1st, 2019, The World Bank approved $185 million dollars of solar energy funds to Bangladesh, adding up to nearly 310 Megawatts (MW) of renewable energy capacity, to provide the country with more solar panels, batteries, and more to help develop the solar industry (one MW is the equivalent of needing 14,000 solar panels). The government has also gotten the private sector involved due to the increasing demands of electricity. In recent years, one project that works with The World Bank is helping to reach those demands.

The Scaling-up Renewable Energy Program works to expand renewable markets and energy solutions worldwide. The organization is currently working on constructing a large-scale solar energy park (50 MW) in the Feni district of Bangladesh. This solar energy park will be implemented by the Electricity Company of Bangladesh (EGCB), an oil and energy firm. This project will greatly increase the amount of clean energy in Bangladesh, along with access to it. Importantly, solar energy prevents the usage of fossil fuels, which has significantly improved the air quality in the region. The project is projected to cut down emissions by 377,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. 

Bangladesh not only now has large-scale access to solar energy, but the government has also managed to introduce 1,000 solar irrigation pumps. Irrigation pumps are used to pump water from a lower, to a higher level of land to ensure that water flows through channels into fields where crops are growing. This process requires a lift-operation to raise the water to the required pressure so that the water can be sprayed on the fields using a sprinkler system. This original system is complicated, and also uses a substantial amount of energy. On the other hand, a solar irrigation system uses the sun’s energy to power the pump that supplies the water to the fields. These solar irrigation pumps are better financial investments, in addition to improving crop yields for farmers.

Due to these tremendous efforts of using solar power energy, Bangladesh has cut down on carbon emissions and other fossil fuels by five percent, and plans to diminish the usage by 15% by 2030. However, even if Bangladesh continues at this rate, and increases its use of solar energy, it doesn’t mean that the root of the problem is solved.

Gender roles play a significant factor, covering all aspects in society. For example, when it comes to needing heat to cook food or to make it more comfortable to sleep at night, men usually transport the firewood, while women collect, sort and burn it. Therefore, these women are more vulnerable to being exposed to indoor air pollution. In numerous small communities, indoor air pollution leads to more than 49,000 premature deaths per year, and this issue continually contributes to the emissions of greenhouse gases in Bangladesh. The role that the government has taken to provide solar panels and solar energy sources is a step in the right direction, but there is another problem at hand. 

Fahmida Khanom, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change states, “When you think of renewable energy, it must be linked to women’s economic empowerment, easing their burden in a way that protects the environment, prevents pollution and tackles climate change, and bringing additional income for them. This is the opportunity that we have.” The United Nations Environment Program and UN Women’s organization are forming a coalition called the EmPower Project in Bangladesh. Throughout the next five years, this project strives to strengthen gender equality in leadership, data, policies, and investments into fixing climate change. 

Bangladesh has shown tremendous efforts to attempt to improve the way their country creates energy and electricity. Solar energy use is at an all time high, and we need to maintain and continue these efforts. Not only has the country changed their principle source of energy, but they also have taken the first crucial steps towards changing the way women are seen in Bangladeshi society, with the help of global organizations and projects. All over the world, countries, cities, and families can hopefully learn from Bangladesh, and make the switch. 

Sources:

Hi my name is Juliet Zucker and I am 16 years old. I am a incoming junior and go to Mamaroneck High School. I play tennis year round and was on the school tennis team for 2 years. I also play the flute in and out of school taking 3 lessons a week. I belong to my temple and work as an assistant teacher every Sunday. I love writing and am excited to be contributing to The Humanitarian Collective!

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